Sunday, December 16, 2012
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Time for a change at Tech

I'm not a huge fan of change. I still drive the beat-up Ford truck I drove in college, and I probably still will even after I hit that 20-team NFL parlay in Vegas. I liked the BCS the way it was. Meeting new friends is fine but not imperative; I still enjoy my old ones. I don't care if everyone says new iPhone is better, because the old one handles all my needs.

In that regard, I think Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and I have something in common. We value consistency. We like to know what we're going to get. Change can be scary, and if life's going well, why bother with it?

Well, it's time for change at Tech. And it needs to start with the offensive coordinator.

I know what a lot of you longtime e-mailers are thinking: "Wow! Futuristic! Welcome to what I said in 2007!" Hey, what can I say? I admitted I'm slow on the take with these things. But the Bryan Stinespring experiment has run its course, and there's never been a more appropriate time to act than now.

The fact that I haven't previously been an advocate of changing offensive coordinators doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention.

I've seen all the numbers over the years, those paltry national rankings in total offense, including the bottom-out period of 2006-08 when Tech ranked no better than 99th. I've watched this offense get in its own way countless times. I've talked to frustrated Tech defenders who've felt like they did enough to win certain games but didn't get sufficient help.

I've spilled gallons of ink on that stuff. I've tried to hold Stinespring accountable for all of it. I've criticized him, questioned him.

But replace him? No. I've never argued that -- until now.

Why? Because there was always that trump card: Tech was still winning. A lot. Like, more than anybody in the nation from 1995-2011. Ten-win seasons and ACC titles might not be enough for some, but they were enough for me (and obviously Beamer, too) to think that there's a staff feng shui here that didn't need to be disrupted, regardless of what the numbers said.

Beamer would confirm my sentiment every season, right around this time of year. Tech would go to some big bowl game, and the media covering the opponent would ask Frank why they've been so good for so long.

Continuity, Beamer told them. Longtime staff members who trust each other and work efficiently together for a common goal.

Stinespring has been part of that, regardless of his unit's rankings. He deserves some credit for all the success, at least in my mind.

But it's time now. Tech isn't going to a big bowl this year. Nobody from the Rutgers media is going to ask Beamer why the Hokies have been so good year after year; they're going to ask why they weren't nearly as good this year.

A lack of offense is a big reason. The Hokies are 71st in total offense, 78th in scoring.

Stinespring took a gamble this season and lost. Maybe he was asked to do it, to modernize things a bit. Doesn't matter. He lost.

The misdirections and new formations he installed were counterproductive. More than anything, the power running game -- a hallmark of Virginia Tech football -- disappeared. Those extra fakes fooled nobody. They simply allowed defenders more time to get in the backfield and blow up the play.

Is this on Stinespring alone? No way. The offensive line was woefully inadequate. Receivers dropped passes. Logan Thomas' aerial accuracy regressed. Every offensive position coach in Blacksburg needs to look in the mirror on those issues.

To me, the topic of play calling has been a red herring over the years. It's never really been the problem. Coordinating an offense is about developing an identity and exerting your will, gaining yards and scoring points whether you're tricking people or not.

The Hokies did the opposite this year. They lost their way.

For an accomplished coordinator, you simply could write this off as a one-year hiccup and vow to fix it next year. But Stinespring never built the statistical equity required to get this benefit of the doubt. The Hokies won in spite of his offenses many times. Now, at long last, they are losing because of them.

This doesn't make Stinespring a slacker or a bad guy. On the contrary, he works his tail off and always has. His value as a recruiter cannot be overstated. Thomas is among the many stars who've chosen Tech thanks to Stinespring's overtures.

So that's why Tech needs to keep Stinespring -- as an offensive line coach, a recruiting coordinator, something. If that means a reduction in salary because these jobs are less valuable than OC, so be it. Stinespring should understand.

His boss and friend gave him multiple opportunities. Beamer was the last man who wanted to make a change. But at some point, it has to happen.

That point is now.

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